We live in a very complicated world in which we do not have all the answers. We believe in the power of books to inspire our imaginations, challenge our perspectives, and help us learn. This list of thought-provoking books left us talking, debating, and wanting to learn more.
So grab a cozy spot, a hot cup of tea, and prepare to embark on a literary adventure like no other with these books that make you think.
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Thought-Provoking Books for Young Adults
This fantastic and incredibly relevant young adult novel tackles the Black Lives Matter movement. Starr is straddling a line between two worlds. She attends a prestigious prep school where she is one of 2 black children in her grade but she lives in a poor neighborhood 40 minutes down the road.
She switches her personality so that she can fit in wherever she is, never truly being her whole self. When she witnesses her unarmed childhood best friend get killed by a policeman her entire life changes.
She needs to decide what to tell and to whom because her words can have dire consequences for her family and her community. It’s a truly wonderful coming-of-age story from thought-provoking books set in high school that all young adults should read.
This Young Adult Novel is smart and well-written. I loved reading it. Yoon has done something very difficult with this book. She switches back and forth between a few different narrators and still manages to maintain the flow of the story.
This National Book Award finalist is the story of Natasha and Daniel. They meet 12 hours before Natasha and her family are deported to Jamaica. Where will their story take them? You can’t fall in love in 12 hours, can you?
Aza is a 16-year-old who, along with her best friend, is searching for a lost billionaire in order to get the reward money.
Along the way, she finds Davis, the billionaire’s son, and her childhood friend. Love, loss, and resilience are all themes in this book that will capture you and keep you reading until the last page. This thought-provoking book will make you think long after you have read the last page.
Set in a dystopian world, the main character Jonas is special because he is the receiver. In his Idyllic community, he is the one that holds the secrets.
This Newberry Award-Winning classic is one of the most influential novels of our time and one of the best sci-fi books of all time. It is also one of the thought-provoking books that make you think. If you love classic sci-fi books, this pick is a must-read.
This is a magical realism book that is narrated by Death. And in this haunting magical realism book, he tells the story of Liesel, a young girl in Nazi Germany in 1939. Liesel is living with her foster parents and learning to read from stolen books.
She also shares these books with the Jewish man who is hiding in her basement. This book is brilliant, powerful, poignant, and unforgettable. While technically a YA historical fiction book, this book is fiction at its finest and is a must-read from our list of WWII books for kids. This is one of my favorite thought-provoking books.
Thought-Provoking Books: Fiction for Adults
Push is a look at life in the poverty-stricken streets of Harlem in the eighties. The main character is an illiterate 16-year-old pregnant with her second child by her father.
The commentary on a life of poverty and the struggles to get out of her situation are horrific but inspiring. It is incredibly difficult, but such a worthwhile, thought-provoking book.
This highly controversial book and thought-provoking book was awarded Book of the Month Club Book of the Year 2016 and Second Place in Goodreads Best Fiction of 2016.
This is an unlikely love story between the daughter of a drug dealer and one of her father’s thugs. I found it to be a disturbing, extremely well-written, and thought-provoking book.
People either love or hate this book because of the difficult subject matter. Either way, you are sure to feel something when you are done reading it. This is one of the books that will make you think, long after you have finished reading the last page.
I adored Bennett’s debut book The Mothers so I was nervous to read her sophomore novel. Sometimes the next novel doesn’t live up to the first, but The Vanishing Half absolutely does with this wonderful and thought-provoking book.
The premise of this book set in the 70s is so unique. Two black sisters are so pale they can pass for white. One embraces her black heritage and her hometown, the other disappears into white suburbia.
When they meet up again 20 years later through their own daughters, the result is a stunning portrayal of the ties that tether us to our families. This is one of the must-read books about sisters and family drama books! It is also an amazing book for book clubs because there is so much to discuss.
February 2018 Oprah’s Book Club Pick
I can see why there are so many people that loved this book. From the very beginning, there were so many things that made me anxious while reading this book, my heart was pounding. Some of the anxiety was for the right reasons (I knew he would be wrongly convicted) and some of the anxiety was for the wrong reasons (the cavalier way Roy talked about his marriage).
The book is well-written and delves into the complexities of love, marriage, and relationships. It is one of the most thought-provoking books on this list.
When a boat sinks in the Pacific, the only survivors are a 16-year-old boy named Pi, an orangutan, a hyena, a Bengal tiger, and a zebra. And while this book was written less than 20 years ago, it is already a modern classic.
This is not a sailing novel that once read can be forgotten. I know that some people look at the story as an extended metaphor in which each animal represents a person but personally, I like the book exactly the way it was written, one of the best magical realism books I have read.
There is magic in the pages of this book in all meanings of the word. First, read this book, then, rethink everything. This is a perfect example of a thought-provoking book because no two people view it the same way.
Love thought-provoking books? We do too! You can find more on this list of books, carefully divided by genres.
Non-Fiction Thought-Provoking Books
This is an amazing recount of Jeanette Walls’s upbringing and childhood. She is a successful journalist and writer living in New York City.
Her parents also live in New York; however, they choose to be homeless. Jeanette Wells’s upbringing was unconventional and her parents did not offer her a structured childhood. This is a fantastic pick from books about mothers and as non-fiction books go, this one reads like fiction. This pick from thought-provoking books is so readable that I would even recommend it to young teens.
As I read this book, I was absolutely stunned. With each page I kept thinking to myself “This can’t be true” and yet, somehow, in the 1950’s an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks unknowingly had her cells taken. These cells, known as HeLa, were the first human cells that lived outside the human body and could reproduce indefinitely.
HeLa cells became the basis for medical breakthroughs from the creation of the Polio vaccine to cancer and AIDS research. To this day, nobody in the Lacks family has ever received compensation for her contribution to medicine and they cannot afford health insurance.
Years later, I still think about this book- you cannot ask for a more thought-provoking book.
I read this book about poverty in college and I still think of it today. For one year, Barbara set out to live off minimum wage at the lowest-paying jobs in America.
Over the course of the year, she is a hotel maid, a waitress, a cleaning woman, a nursing home aid, and a Wal-Mart associate. Her stories of the conditions she lives in and what people need to do to get by on the poverty line fundamentally changed the course of many people’s thinking over the years.
It shows how hard people are working for minimum wage and how little those salaries get you. This is one of those books that make you think about what is wrong with what we value in this country.
Impactful is the first word that comes to mind as I think about Coates’s memoir. Written as a story for his son, the memoir is filled with the lessons he tries to instill from one black man to another and highlights the important issues our country is facing.
It is hard to grapple with the truths laid bare in this book as a white woman and to understand that I will never understand. But it left me energized and thinking about the work I need to do and the messages I want to send to my own boys. This is a beautifully written thought-provoking book that will make you think differently.
The book outlines her life, her struggles, and the people who took advantage of her good nature. I couldn’t put it down! The splendor of her life reads like a soap opera and the photos of her homes included in the book are jawdropping.
Empty Mansions reads like a novel for sure. Huguette Clark’s life was one of opulence and riches, but she died a recluse with a $300 million dollar estate and a vast number of decrepit homes in her portfolio.
When it comes to books like Downton Abbey, this one is a hit if it’s the house itself you are most interested in and it is definitely one of the books that will make you think about it long after you have finished it.
I read this non-fiction book because it’s becoming a movie in 2023. With Martin Scorsese planning to direct, I knew this plot must be juicy and thought-provoking. Indeed, it was hard to believe I was reading a true story, the plot twists and characters came to life in a cinematic way.
While this is about the start of the FBI and its role in solving the brutal Osage murders in the 1920s, it also tells the story of the exploitative, disgusting treatment of the Osage tribe. It was shocking to read about the brutal way the Osage were manipulated – from the overcharging of goods to the corruption of the justice system, to flat-out murder, this is a stark, eye-opening story of our country’s racist roots.
This is one of the summer reads 2023 that will stay with you for a long time and a truly thought-provoking book.
If you love these thought-provoking books, you can find more in this list we created especially for you.
Sci-fi Books That Make You Think
I won’t say how many years it has been since I read this book. But I will tell you that I haven’t forgotten any of it. It is one of those thought-provoking books that will have you thinking about it for years to come.
Set in a future in which all humans are genetically bred to uphold a particular place in society without question, the cost has been freedom in all aspects of the word.
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read.
She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant because, in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable.
Offred remembers when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge, her husband Luke, and her daughter But all of that is gone now….
The contemporary fiction book/sci-fi book is scary because of how convincing it is. There is a reason this thought-provoking book by Canadian Author, Margaret Atwood, has won awards in addition to being made into a Netflix Series. It will make you think differently about everything.
Hula is not only one of the best beach read of 2023, but it’s also one of the best books of 2023! I picked up this book based on the cover and the thoughts of the hula dance competition, but instead of the fun read I was expecting, I got a coming-of-age story about a light-skinned Hawaiian who is trying to prove she belongs by learning to Hula.
But this Hula isn’t just a dance, it keeps the legends and legacies of the Hawaiian culture alive. Sprinkled throughout this story, while Hi’i is fighting to prove her worth, we see glimpses of her mother and grandmother’s lives, as well el as vignettes that explain Hawaii’s history, colonization, and the struggle of native Hawaiians today.
There is so much to uncover in this book, so many layers to absorb. I was entertained while reading it, but more importantly, I learned so much. I’ll be raving about this for years to come! This is one of the best thought-provoking books I have ever read.
August 2016 Oprah’s Book Club Pick
I absolutely loved this book and it was one of the first reviews we ever did on the blog. I love the way this book examined the underground railroad with a touch of magical realism. If you are looking for thought-provoking books, look no further.
The story is about Cora and Caesar, two run-away slaves in the South who run away to the underground railroad which, in this book, is an actual railroad.
Each stop along the way is reminiscent of a different place in history and it is interlaced with actual ads placed for runaway slaves. This book is profound and beautiful and a must-read.
Based on the true story of New York socialite, Caroline Ferriday, this fictionalized account of the war is told from three perspectives.
The novel alternates between Caroline in New York, Kasia, a Polish prisoner, at Ravensbruck, and Herta, the only female doctor at that same camp.
Herta’s perspective, she was a real doctor at Ravensbruck, was particularly fascinating to read. Hearing her thoughts left a deep impact since authors rarely write from the perspective of the Nazi party members. That perspective makes this novel unique among these books about WWII and is truly a thought-provoking book.
Love these thought-provoking books? We do too! Check out more in this list carefully divided by time period.
Thought-Provoking Books for Book Clubs
July 2022 Read With Jenna Book Club Pick
This is one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. One day everyone over the age of 22 wakes up to find a string on their doorstep. It’s soon clear that the length of one’s string determines the length of their life.
Soon short stringers are being discriminated against around the globe which begs the question – what is the true measure of a valuable life? This would be a fabulous book club book. There is so much to talk about and you will love this pick from summer reads 2023! Don’t let the fact that this is a sci-fi book deter you if it is not your usual genre.
Ladies, get your book clubs geared up for Chandler Baker’s newest novel. It’s part mystery, part social commentary, but it’s the latter that packs a punch in this contemporary fiction.
Baker examines the mental load that women carry as wives and mothers, particularly working women, and how it differs from what society expects of men.
Murder in the desirable Dynasty Ranch neighborhood has lawyer and prospective buyer, Nora, looking into what happened. With all the Stepford-style husbands she is meeting, she’s starting to wonder what kind of place Dynasty Ranch is after all. This is a perfect book for book clubs, it is such a thought-provoking book. You will have such a great discussion about this book about motherhood.
Classic Thought-Provoking Books
This book is another one of my favorite books I read in high school and this thought-provoking book also happens to be a short one. George and Lennie have stuck with me for the last 20-plus years.
There is something about Lennie’s innocence that is haunting. There is a moment (if you have read it, you know what I am talking about) that makes this book unforgettable. I re-lived this book again this year when my son read it in middle school.
Bradbury’s dystopian classic is one of the most well-known pieces of modern literature but I hadn’t read it! I don’t usually gravitate to books like this, but I had heard so many people speak about the relevancy of this novel today.
It’s so true. This sci-fi book offers a grim look at our future if our society continues down the road of this technology obsession we seem to have. If you liked 1984 or The Circle, you will devour this thought-provoking book.
I cannot count the number of times I have read this book. It is a coming-of-age book that was ahead of its time and is even more relevant to the world today.
It’s about a young girl named Scout, whose father (Atticus) is a lawyer in her Southern town. As she grows, she realizes the prejudices within her town – culminating in her watching a trial as her father defends Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.
This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was also made into an Academy Award-winning movie. It’s unforgettable and a must-read. If you are looking for books that make you think, this pick from thought-provoking books will fit the bill.
What are the most thought-provoking books?
1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
3. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
4. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
5. Hula by Jasmin Iolani Hakes
What are some easy-to-read thought-provoking books for my book club?
These are some easy-to-read and thought-provoking books for book clubs:
1. Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
2. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
3. The Measure by Nikki Erlick
4. The Husbands by Chandler Baker
What do you think of our thought-provoking books?
We wanted to include some books on this list that are unique. Each of these thought-provoking books will make you think long after you have finished the last page. Do you have more suggestions for us?